CATSKILL — The chief of the Catskill Police Department told the village’s reform committee that budget cuts to the force would result in a loss of services.
The Village of Catskill Police Reinvention Collaborative discussed the role of police departments in the community and the concept of directing resources to other community needs.
The group was formed in response to a state executive order in June requiring all government entities with a police agency to conduct a review of police policies and procedures and develop a plan to improve them in a way that will address the needs of the community.
The reform plan must be ratified by the village board by April 1, 2021, with certification sent to the state Division of the Budget or the village risks losing funding.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Coxsackie, Athens, Cairo, Durham, Hunter and Windham must also complete the review process.
The collaborative, chaired by Village Trustee Natasha Law, consists of Catskill High School principal Junait Shaw, Deacon Willie Davis, Matthew 25 Food Pantry Founder Patti Dushane, Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione, Rita Taylor of Hop-o-Nose, Catskill Housing Authority Chairman Sam Aldi and community members Elliot Matos and Mayra Johnson.
Law read aloud questions submitted by community members on the Facebook Live video.
Hudson Catskill Housing Coalition Program Coordinator Molly Stinchfield asked about the police’s role in mental health emergencies.
“Why are the police first responders to mental health and addiction issues?” Stinchfield wrote. “We should be putting more money toward those services.”
Police respond for safety reasons, Catskill Police Chief David Darling said.
“When EMS gets a call for a mental health patient, they won’t even go in until the police get there,” he said.
The Mobile Crisis Assessment Team is not 24 hours and the county’s on-call mental health worker does not go on-site for calls, Darling said.
“Those resources in Greene County are not readily available,” he said. “I wish they were. We can only use the resources that are available to use. We are not mental health personnel.”
Addressing mental health crises is an issue that extends beyond the village, Darling said.
“I would wholeheartedly support a mental health worker responding,” he said. “It’s not a village problem, it’s a county problem. The village cannot employ five mental health workers.”
Police will always be a part of the equation, Darling said.
“No matter what reform we do, police are still going to be involved in that response,” he said.
Stinchfield also questioned the size of the police force.
“Why do we need so many officers on duty round the clock when we also have state, county and town police?” Stinchfield wrote. “It’s a duplication of services.”
The town of Catskill does not have a police department.
The 2020-21 budget for the Catskill Police Department is $1.3 million out of the village’s $4.9 million budget, or 26.5% of the overall spending plan. The department has 14 full-time employees and three part-time employees, Lt. Ronald Frascello of the Catskill Police Department said in June.
First responders are spread thin throughout the county, Darling said Monday.
“On any given night after 7 p.m. you might have five cars for the whole county,” he said. “There are not a lot of police officers in Greene County, no matter what anyone tells you.”
In terms of allocating funding to other community needs, Darling said a budget cut would result in a loss of services.
The department has a response time of three to five minutes, Law said.
Another topic discussed by the collaborative was how to increase participation.
Claire Cousin, of the Hudson Catskill Housing Coalition, recommended the group issue an online survey similar to Hudson’s.
Elton Vandermark Jr. said some residents were afraid to come to the meeting because police were present.
In attendance were Darling, Frascello and Lt. Dan Waer of the Catskill Police Department.
“Police can never fix the problem if people never come,” committee member Mayra Johnson said.
Darling was open to the idea of having meetings without the police.
“Maybe we shouldn’t be here,” he said.
Complaints could also be directed to the village board, Darling said, adding he makes the trustees aware of any complaints he receives.
Collaborative members spoke about their goals for the review.
“My focus is to see to it our police department understands and respects their purpose is to serve and protect the community and do it in a professional manner,” Stanzione said. “There is no perfect police department but the village of Catskill does have some things going for them. One is that they are an accredited agency.”
Catskill Police Department has been accredited for 12 years and is the only accredited agency in Greene County.
Another advantage the department has is many officers are local, Stanzione said.
“They understand the needs of the community,” he said.
Dushane said she wants to ensure training for officers is always updated and communication improves between police and the community.
“I was born and raised here,” Dushane said. “I think our police force is doing a wonderful job, but I also think there is always room for improvement.”
All officers receive annual training in a variety of topics including use of force, anti-bias, de-escalation, community policing and mental health awareness for law enforcement, Law said.
New officers must complete 21-23 hours of training annually and ride along with a senior officer for 160 hours before going out on their own, Law said.
No-knock warrants and chokeholds are banned in the village of Catskill, Law said.
“The percentage of white to minority arrests in the village of Catskill is 80% white and 20% Black,” she said. “The last 20 years of data was reviewed to obtain this percentage.”
Johnson wants to ensure the police can communicate with individuals that don’t speak English, she said.
“I want to make sure everyone is treated equally and with respect,” Johnson said.
The last time the department used pepper spray was January 2013 and the last time a Taser was used was November 2019, Law said.
The department has not received any use-of-force complaints in the last five years, she said.
“There were three personnel complaints in the last year,” Law said, adding that disciplinary action was taken.
The agency does not have body cameras or dashboard cameras, Law said.
The Collaborative intends to hold additional public meetings, Law said.
Comments or questions regarding the review of Catskill Police Department can be sent to email@example.com.